Frye on Privacy, Cont’d

“The whole appeal of Sherlock Holmes,” Frye writes, “was connected with his ability to notice ordinary details. Here again is the dialectic between the all-seeing eye of God & of the spy of the state with his ‘telescreen.'” In Anatomy of Criticism Frye links the telescreen with the “humiliation of being watched by a hostile or derisive eye,” a theme in the tragedies of such figures as Prometheus and Milton’s Samson.

I’m reminded of two stories from Frye’s early life, one more or less innocent, the other malicious.

When he was a student circuit rider on the Saskatchewan prairies, he reported that whenever his horse Katy “broke into a trot you had to stand straight up in the stirrups and let the saddle come up and caress your backside at intervals. I remember something that I found later in a Canadian critic, I think it was Elizabeth Waterson, who spoke of the prairies as the sense of immense space with no privacy. And I found that on top of Katy, who naturally stimulated one’s bladder very considerably. I realized that I couldn’t get off in that vast stretch of prairie because everybody was out with opera glasses, you see, watching the preacher on top of Katy. That was what people did. They all had spy glasses. They weren’t doing it with any malicious sense. It was just that their lives were rather devoid of incident, and naturally they liked to see who was going along. It wasn’t their fault.”

And now the sinister tale, recorded by Frye in one of his diaries:

“I often wonder about intuitive racial-stereotype thinking: a lot of it’s balls. For instance, there’s a big good-natured German in Moncton called Lichtenberg who had been a peaceful, thrifty, industrious contractor there for thirty years. For two wars the local Gestapo have cut their teeth on him: when the news is bad or they get tired of reading spy stories they’d go up and practise on him. Recently the Gestapo combed his whole house over, in response to some silly anonymous ‘tip,’ & one of them found two large knobs in a dark closet. ‘Aha!’ he said, stepped into the closet & gave one a twist, thinking of course it was a private transmitter set. It was an extra shower he’d installed. Incidentally, he’s a naturalized Canadian citizen, but married before that, so his wife, who belongs to one of the oldest Maritime families, is an enemy alien. Well, Dad’s friendship for Lichtenberg has come in for much unfavorable comment in that stinking little kraal Moncton, & the stinkers point out gleefully that ‘Frye’ is really a German name, & that I look just like a German. It’s a beautiful theory, only it just happens to be wrong.”

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